Published on Wed Aug 25 2021

Using mass Spectrometry to investigate fluorescent compounds in squirrel fur

Hughes, B., Bowman, J., Stock, N., Burness, G.

Fluorescence in mammals is a novel and poorly understood phenomenon. We believe that a first step towards understanding the potential adaptive functions of fluorescence is to develop an understanding of fluorescent compounds, or fluorophores, that are present in fluorescent tissue.

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Abstract

While an array of taxa are capable of producing fluorescent pigments, fluorescence in mammals is a novel and poorly understood phenomenon. We believe that a first step towards understanding the potential adaptive functions of fluorescence in mammals is to develop an understanding of fluorescent compounds, or fluorophores, that are present in fluorescent tissue. Here we use Fourier transform-ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) of flying squirrel fur known to fluoresce under ultraviolet (UV) light to identify potentially fluorescent compounds in squirrel fur. All of the potentially fluorescent compounds we identified were either present in non-fluorescent fur or were not present in all species of fluorescent flying squirrel. Therefore, we consider that the compounds responsible for fluorescence in flying squirrels may also be present in non-fluorescent mammal fur. Some factor currently unexplained likely leads to excitation of fluorophores in flying squirrel fur. A recently suggested hypothesis that fluorescence in mammals is widely caused by porphyrins is consistent with our findings.